Graduate School Life

Questions to consider when choosing a research advisor:

  • Are the ongoing research activities in the professor’s research group in the area of your doctoral interest?
  • Does the professor have the time to take you on as an additional research student?
  • What is their management style? Do you want a professor who is very involved in the work of their graduate students or one who has a more “hands-off” approach?
  • Does the professor have a high probability of starting at the university during the course of your time there? It could be difficult to finish your work if your research advisor has any plans or has the possibility of retirement or transfer to another university; even temporarily such as a sabbatical may make things challenging.
  • Do your personalities match? This also includes whether your learning style and an advisor’s teaching style match or work well.
  • Choosing an Ideal Mentor Video

Individual Development Plan (IDP)

  • Many graduate programs have begun to use IDPs to help students along their graduate careers. IDPs help map out the steps to take in pursuing your goals.
  • There are 4 key components to creating an IDP:
    1. Conducting a self-assessment—Conducting an honest self-assessment which includes your interests, goals, academic strengths and weaknesses, collaboration abilities, leadership skills, professional and networking abilities.
    2. Creating an IDP—After writing an IDP share it with your advisor who can help revise your plan.
    3. Implementing the IDP—Once the IDP has been set into action, set up regular meetings with your advisor and graduate committee to review your IDP and make any revisions, if necessary.
    4. Potential career paths—Survey (continuously) potential career paths and review possibilities with your advisor, fellow colleagues, mentors.
  • More information on IDPs from ACS: ACS on IDPs
  • myIDP is a web-based career planning tool with a 4-step process which allows you to explore career possibilities through a list of 20 scientific career paths and to set goals aimed towards the desired career path.

Advice From Previous Graduate Students


Full-time Ph.D. and research master’s students are almost always offered assistantships, which fall into two broad categories: Teaching Assistant, Graduate Research Assistants. It is not recommended going into a program that does not offer these assistantships. MS programs sometimes offer assistantships, and they rarely provide a tuition waiver and a stipend. Students are recommended to discuss with their faculty advisor regarding which track is best for them.

Students on full assistantships receive the following:

  • A stipend
  • Full tuition fellowship
  • Student Fees

Teaching Assistants (TA)

A teaching assistant is an academic appointment in support of the teaching of a course. Teaching assistants may assist in teaching a section of a course, lead discussions, and/or lead laboratory sections. Some duties you might encounter as a teaching assistant in the chemistry are:

  • Prepare and facilitate a pre-lab tutorial
  • Supervise laboratory periods each week
  • Introduce students to each experiment
  • Actively provide advice and assistance to students as they conduct work in the lab
  • Evaluating students' performance by observing them while they carry out experiments
  • Grade laboratory reports for all students enrolled in your section
  • Enforce all safety regulations
  • Attend the course lecture; attend weekly TA (GE) meetings
  • Proctor midterm exams and the final exam
  • Assist in proctoring weekly quizzes;
  • Keep records of student grades and update the online grade book for the students enrolled in your section(s)
  • Provide feedback and assistance to the course instructor as requested
  • Maintain a clean and orderly laboratory environment which includes working with laboratory staff to make sure the laboratory space is ready for the next class.

Graduate Research Assistantships (GSR)

Graduate student researchers are selected for high achievement and promise as creative scholars and assist faculty members with scholarly research. They may or may not collaborate in the publication of research results as determined by supervising faculty members.

Salary Scale for Graduate Research Assistantships

  • Estimate range from teaching or research assistantships will range from $20-40K depending on school and positions(s) available.

Graduate School Life: Financing

Graduate Students

Financing your graduate degree is an investment in your future, and in this section here is a guide to you through the process. Financial aid office offers several types of financial assistance to help make obtaining your graduate degree a reality.

Graduate students who’ve been accepted for admission into a degree program, are enrolled at least half-time (3 credits) and have filed a FAFSA are eligible to receive financial assistance through the financial aid office. Available financial assistance includes Federal Direct Loans and student employment.

The awarding of financial aid depends upon your eligibility and the availability of funds. As funding is limited, it’s encouraged you to apply as early as possible.

Types of Aid


An educational loan is a form of financial aid that must be repaid, with interest. Educational loans come in three major categories: federal student loans, federal graduate PLUS loans, and private student loans (offered through a private lender).

Federal student loans are often the most affordable loans available to students. They have fixed interest rates and their principal and interest payments are deferred until after graduation. There are other financing options (payment plans, PLUS loans, and private educational loans) you may also consider.

Federal Loans

Federal Direct Loans are fixed-rate student loans for undergraduate and graduate students attending college at least half time. Direct Loans are made available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who complete the FAFSA. Repayment of principal and interest begins six months after a student ceases to be enrolled for at least half time.

Subsidized Direct Loan: Students need to demonstrate financial need to obtain this loan. Interest is paid by the federal government while a student is enrolled at least half time. Graduate students are not eligible to receive subsidized Direct Loans.

Unsubsidized Direct Loan: Students don’t need to demonstrate financial need to receive this loan. Interest accrues while one is in school (once the loan is disbursed), as well as grace and deferment periods. The student will be sent quarterly statements and will have the option of paying the interest as it accrues while in school. If they don’t pay the interest as it accrues, the unpaid interest will be capitalized (added to the principal balance) at repayment, in the grace period or after deferment.

Federal Work Study

Federal work-study: Administered by the office of financial aid, work-study funds allow you to secure a job on campus and are based on need. The dollar amount indicated in your award letter is the estimated amount you’ll be able to earn on campus during the academic year.

Tuition Rates

PhD: Doctor of Philosophy

Average Elapsed Time to Doctoral Degree: 5-6 years

* Ph.D. program almost always include funding in the form of teaching or research assistantships.


Average Elapsed Time to master’s degree: 2-3 years with a minimum of 30 Units required

M.S., Chemistry at CSU Northridge
$8,322 per academic year

M.S., Chemistry and Biochemistry at Cornell University Graduate School
$29,500 per academic year

M.S., Chemistry (Biochemistry) at CSULA
$8,198 per academic year

* Master Programs are not fully funded like a Ph.D. program, they can be partially funded by Teacher Assistantships & federal or private loans.

By Michelle Nguyen, Juan Ramos, and Tatiana Tsareva

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